Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finding the Sacred In Nature

I grew up in Irmo, South Carolina which is a suburb of Columbia. Despite being in a suburb, I was lucky to have miles of woods behind my house. Early in life I grasped a sense of the sacred in nature. I sensed something unspoken in the whisper of pines as my eyes peered up at the sky through needles and filtered sunlight. I felt something magical as I broke across the rising mist in early morning walks in the bend of the Broad river. I didn't need any complicated theology to see the divine and the good in life in those moments. I could hear frogs and crickets in the evenings. I spent sun-burnt summer days building forts, and playing flash light tag among the fireflies and pines. My favorite time in the woods was to make my way to the river just as the sun broke the sky, and the mist still cast mysterious coverings against the trees. I would sit on river rocks, mindless of moccasins or the rush of the river. I look back on those wild moments of my childhood and taste a freedom I struggle to find again.

There was some elemental understanding of my connection with those woods, that river, and the pulse of life. Time was measured in how far the sun had risen in the sky, not the constant checking of cell phones and calendars. I would come home baked in mud, my mom would hose us down before she'd let my sister and I back into the house. These were simple joys and beautiful days.

Water, earth, air, fire – and spirit. So elemental and basic, yet we lose touch behind our computer screens and the pace of a hurried life. It is easy to think that we can separate ourselves, and remove ourselves from the cycles of nature. Yet, the hurricane reminds us. The rainbow reminds us. We must be reminded of our sacred connection, if we can possibly hope to find some balance in our life on this small, blue planet.

Every small action of conservation and thoughtful choice that we take in remembrance of our sacred relationship is a hopeful action.

Whether we stand in the ancient shadow of redwoods or listen to the whispering wind in a pine tree forest, it is hard to not have gratitude for the offerings of nature. Trees give shade, offer places for nests, fruit and sustenance, and hold the soil together against the rush of storm and water. Like mother's milk, our rivers course from the water's source at the tops of mountain peaks and trickle down to oceans and lakes.

Take time in this season of winter to take in the beauty of Carson Park or go for a walk by the river.

Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn said, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

We won't find the same miracles behind the glass of our windshield or stuck to our computer as we will find in seeing the arc of an eagle's flight. Our lives are so much more beautiful and rich when we can connect with the beauty and awe of the natural world. These are the moments we remember and that can bring us deep peace and joy.